I really shouldn’t be making a habit of posting these 2 months after the previous year has finished…
Despite my best efforts to really, truly, get back into the 1 game per week rhythm I still managed to only play 43 games last year (1 up from last year). My list of games I didn’t get around to is about as long as it was the years previous although, to be honest, most of them were missed deliberately. Unlike like the last few years I really don’t have a problem with crowning this year’s winner, even with 4 titles vying for the top spot. However it wasn’t always so as I went back and forth over which title should take the crown for a good part of last year. In retrospect now, and by looking at the scores it’s quite clear that there’s only one title it could be.
For reference here’s the list of every game I played last year in chronological order:
It is my not-so-guilty pleasure to assign last year’s worst game to none other than Space Hulk: Deathwing, my second game for last year. I went into that game with no real expectations; I simply hoped for another semi-decent Warhammer 40K game. What I got instead was a slow moving borefest that made the ultimate 40K fantasy, the one of being a Space Marine, a tiresome affair. I’m definitely not alone in thinking this either with 43% of owners simply not playing it and, for those who do, half of them have played less than 2 hours. Coming in at a very close second was STRAFE which proved that nostalgia can only take you so far, especially with “old school” 3D graphics. Thankfully both these titles have been overshadowed by the numerous better games I played last year and there’s a couple that fit into the honourable mention category.
This is likely going to land me in some very hot water but Star Wars Battlefront 2, yes that one, gets a mention as since it’s released I’ve poured some 100+ hours into the multiplayer. A small chunk of that came during the review and I was almost set to put it down until the holiday period came along. It was then that the Christmas Noobs flooded the servers, providing an incredible hunting ground for those like me who had unlocked some decent star cards. That then grew into a love for the base game and I’ve since unlocked all heros and topped the servers dozens of times over. To be sure the issues around microtransactions and progression tied to loot boxes still exist however, now that I’ve basically got everything I need, it’s a non-issue for me. Funnily enough had I shelled out cash to get to this point earlier I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. Still it remains one of my guilty pleasures, much like Call of Duty used to be.
I also want to mention Pyre as it’s a rare example of a company taking a massive risk when it comes to changing what they do. Whilst I didn’t score it as highly as Transistor it did stick in my mind as one of last year’s more unique experiences. For Supergiant games it signals something of a turning point, one which frees them from the shackles they so lovingly crafted for themselves. Their future is incredibly bright and I can not wait to see what comes from them next.
But enough beating around the bush, my Game of the Year for 2017 is:
Zelda: Breath of the Wild was destined for great things right from the beginning. A new Zelda game on a new Nintendo console is basically guaranteed to be a hit but the changes to the core Zelda formula could have swung either way. Thankfully what we got was an absolutely amazing game, one that managed to grow the franchise beyond the constraints that came from the decades of titles that preceded it. The fact that even after some 30+ hours the game could still surprise me says a lot about the game as there aren’t many that can remain new and fresh for that long. There are some small chinks in its near-perfect armour however, namely the weapon durability system which made some of the game’s more interesting and unique finds less useful and enjoyable than they could have been. Even that small flaw melts away in the face of the grander experience that the game puts forward. Honestly whilst my Nintendo Switch may sit not 3 feet away from me, still unused since I played Zelda last, I still consider it money well spent simply for the purpose of playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Coming in at a very close second was Horizon: Zero Dawn. Given that I played it immediately after Zelda it could have easily have been overshadowed but it managed to shine extremely brightly. For a long time after I finished it I was tossing up which of them was the better of the two games. On a raw score perspective Zelda wins, so you’d think that would seal it, but Horizon is a completely new IP and doing something new like that (and doing well at it) could be argued is the greater achievement. In the end Horizon had a few more black marks against in terms of overall experience but make no mistake, it’s still one of last year’s top tier games.
In third place is Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which continued the series’ trademark classic shooter experience in a modern context. It also gets extra points for presenting the most captivating story experience in the series to date. Some of the mistakes of the past still haunt it but, at least for this old reviewer, it proved itself to be the best game in the series to date.
If my list of games to review is anything to go by 2018 is shaping up to be quite the year. Many of the developers who I’ve previously given Game of the Year to are releasing new titles this year and I’m eager to see how they all stack up.
The Wolfenstein series’ soft reboot with The New Order back in 2014 was a gamble for then nascent developer MachineGames. The previous instalment in the franchise hadn’t performed well and many were left wondering if it would have a future at all. However they managed to release a game that was good in its own right, keeping the core old-school FPS feel and integrating it with modern-day improvements. The Old Blood was seen as a small stumble by most, the stand-alone prequel story not bringing enough to the table and being released barely a year after its predecessor. Suffice to say feelings were mixed around the announcement of The New Colossus as history showed that this game could potentially be a return to form or a continuation of its slow downwards trajectory.
For this writer, I’m glad to say, The New Colossus signals a big step forward for the franchise.
SPOILERS FOR PREVIOUS WOLFENSTEIN GAMES BELOW
You return again as B.J Blazkowicz, lying broken and bloody atop Deathshead’s fortress after defeating him. As your world darkens you give the order to fire on your position, hoping to rid the world of the foul technology that helped the Nazis conquer the world. However before you black out you see that your friends of the Kreisau Circle have come to rescue you, taking you away before they lay waste to the Nazi stronghold. Your recovery is long and just as you awake your location comes under attack by Frau Engel. With your broken body you haul yourself into a nearby wheelchair and return to what you do best: killing Nazis by the truckload. From here you continue your journey to free the world from Nazi rule.
The New Colossus is the second game to come to us via the id Tech 6 engine, the first being the DOOM reboot of last year. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was developed on a completely new engine as the graphics are a massive leap forward in almost all respects. However the release day version of the game was plagued with performance issues, something I noted early on after attempting to tweak my settings. After reading some forum posts I found that my drivers were 1 version out of date and, upon updating them, everything improved dramatically. The game still suffers greatly in outdoor areas, an ailment that seems to plague all id Tech games. Still this is one of the few games where I’ve been unable to max all the settings lest I turn the game into a slideshow. Kuods to MachineGames for continuing the trend of high quality visuals.
The core game play mechanics of The New Colossus remain largely the same as its predecessors being your typical mix of FPS and light-RPG elements. You’ll spend the majority of your time gunning down all sorts of different Nazis and their contraptions but how you go about that will be shaped by how you play and what upgrades you choose. The perk upgrade system is mostly the same, requiring you to perform certain actions in order to unlock them. Weapon upgrades are streamlined significantly, allowing you to unlock up to 3 upgrades for all of the normal weapons. Later on in the game you get access to contraptions which are another set of upgrades that unlock various areas of the game that are otherwise inaccessible. This then dovetails into the Ubercommander missions, which are essentially replays of missions you’ve already completed, allowing you to tackle them again with your newfound powers. All in all it feels like a tighter, more concise game overall which is saying something given that my campaign-only playthrough clocks in at just under an hour shorter than my The New Order playthrough.
Combat is mostly mid-paced, often starting with a stealth section followed by your typical corridor shooter affair once you are inevitably detected. There are some high action scenes where you’ll just be sending endless streams of lead down range but for the most part you can take your time when it comes to engaging The New Colosuss’ enemies. The shooting does feel a little on the rough side, the generosity of previous game’s hit boxes reduced somewhat requiring a greater level of skill on the player. Some of the guns feel completely ineffectual until you get one or two of their upgrades which, thankfully, won’t take too long if you take some time to explore a little bit. The game isn’t stingy with ammo drops either so no matter what gun you prefer you’ll most likely be able to use it as often as you want. Despite the slightly slower pace and less polished feel overall I’d rate the combat as equal to its predecessors.
Progression is broadly broken up into 2 main systems, perks and weapon mods, but you’ll also change the mix of your base stats as you progress through the game. Initially you’ll have a max of 50 health and 200 armour which, after a certain mission, will change to 100/100. This might not sound like much but it does change the flow of the game significantly, especially considering the game’s focus on over-charging your health rather than allowing you to increase it permanently. Thus the start of the game actually feels a lot easier than it does towards the end since you won’t be able to overcharge your health to 200 and also run around with 200 armour. If this is your first foray into Wolfenstein it might actually be a great way to ease you into the flow of the game.
The perks level up as you perform various feats and, curiously, don’t reset their counter upon death. This does mean that, if you’re so inclined, you could grind them out by save scumming but honestly most of them will come easily as long as you know which one to go for. They don’t provide massive benefits, usually just small benefits that will make your life a little easier, but all of them together do make a noticeable impact. The weapon mods are much, much more impactful often turning lacklustre guns into absolute beasts. The Sturmgewehr for instance when upgraded fully is by far the fastest way to take out armoured enemies and the Pistole is really the only gun that can be used in stealth when you get its suppressor. Progression stalls a bit towards the end since you’ll have upgraded your weapons of choice and unlocked most of the perks that aligned to your playstyle. The contraptions do add a little bit more flavour there but I didn’t bother unlocking the other 2 as I didn’t want to grind out the ubercommander missions. I’m sure if I did though I’d feel a little different about the progression stalling at 2/3rds through the game.
Whilst there are still some performance issues, predominately in outdoor environments, The New Colossus also seems to suffer from some weird bugs either due to running in borderless window mode (something which it natively supports), the Steam overlay or being alt-tabbed. Essentially whenever focus was taken away from the game and then returned to it there was a 50/50 chance of a crash happening. Often this wasn’t too much of an issue, the checkpoint system working well, however a few times it got me stuck in unskippable moments which I’d have to repeat a few times over to get past. Unfortunately I couldn’t figure out the cause of these errors as the crash reporter always alerted me that it couldn’t write the crash dump. I’m sure there’s a simple explanation to this and it will likely be patched in the future. Still if you’re wanting to avoid this it’s probably worth running it in exclusive fullscreen for now.
The New Colossus’ story telling feels head and shoulders above its predecessors, giving many of the characters and their relationships ample time to develop. To be sure the plot follows your typical action movie trope with few, if any, real surprises to be had. However there’s some great moments of levity and self-awareness showing that the writers knew that they were making yet-another Nazi story that needed something to liven it up. There is a bit of an obsession with long, drawn out scenes where you’re basically locked in place, some of which could have been trimmed down a bit and still had the same amount of impact. Still for a series where I used to rate the story as “interesting but forgettable” The New Colossus is one that I think I’ll remember fondly for some time.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a big step forward both for the franchise and MachineGames as a developer. The core of what made the original great is still there, retaining much of that old-world FPS charm whilst including modern mechanics to amplify that experience further. The game still suffers from some of the issues that seem to plague all id Tech based games but these are things that will hopefully be fixed in future patches. Over the top of all this, and likely the reason why I feel this particular game is a step ahead of its predecessors, is the story which does a great job of giving all the characters time to shine whilst steering clear of all too popular LOOK OUT FOR A SEQUEL cliffhanger. If Call of Duty: WWII left me wanting Wolfenstein: The New Colossus has me wanting for more.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with 9 hours of total play time and 38% of the achievements unlocked.
The days of the expansion pack have long since left us, replaced by it’s bite sized cousin downloadable content. For many this is a better way of doing it as it allows players to revisit games on a semi-regular basis to enjoy the additional couple hours of game play. This gamer however pines for the good old days when expansion packs were usually good enough to be classed as new games on their own, providing a whole new experience in the same world. From time to time though some games still follow this old format and Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is one such title, detailing the story of William “B.J.” Blazkowicz before he set out on the events detailed in Wolfenstein: The New Order.
The war against the Nazis is being lost with the allied forces being pushed back on nearly every front. Their rapid technological progress being driven by one of their top scientists, General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse, is most likely the cause of this however his location has proven to be elusive. It is up to you then, playing as Blazkowicz, to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold and find a folder belonging to Helga Von Schabbs which has his location. However your infiltration quickly goes awry and you find yourself in the belly of the beast, armed with nothing more than a pipe and your sharp wit. Whether that will be enough for you to complete your objective, however, is up to you.
As you’d expect of a game that has come out barely a year after its predecessor The Old Blood retains the same level of graphical excellence which was only magnified by immense power that my new rig was able to throw at it. Strangely enough some of the performance issues I had experienced previously, like the significant drop in performance in the more open sections, were still present which leads me to think that the id Tech 5 engine potentially has some issues with larger scenes. Still it was eminently playable, especially in the indoor sections where split section reaction times and seat-of-the-pants gameplay were a common occurrence. The colour palette and scenery may give it the same feeling as many previous generation games but it’s anything but, especially when you take a few moments to look around.
The core of what The New Order great remains in The Old Blood although the experience has been streamlined due to the game’s reduced length. At its heart The Old Blood is still a corridor shooter, one that incorporates the old traditions of hiding secret areas whilst blending in a few RPG elements to give you an edge over your enemies. The wide and varied arsenal makes a return, allowing you to select from a whole host of silly weapons to mow down any enemy that’s put in front of you. The modifications to these guns however is greatly reduced, usually amounting to one setting you can change rather than the The New Order’s rather bountiful mod system. The levelling system has also been slimmed down considerably with only a handful of options available to you although the completion mechanic remains. The stealth is back and, thankfully, feels a lot more fair than its predecessor’s did even if it still gets taken away from you every so often. Overall The Old Blood feels like a more streamlined version of the The New Order with all the benefits and pitfalls that come with it.
The combat retains the highly polished, fast paced nature that we’ve all come to expect from AAA corridor shooters like this. For those seeking a challenge though you’re likely to be disappointed as even on the second hardest difficulty most enemies are pretty easy to take on, with some of them even missing point blank shots. The increased difficulty seems to come from them doing a whole bunch more damage when they do eventually land a shot or get a melee hit off on you, something which can be rather irritating when later enemies get the ability to one hit kill you. These are all things that can be overcome with a little strategy (and of course levelling the various perks) however for a game that wants to emulate its FPS ancestors putting the training wheels on the difficulty seems somewhat counter-intuitive, even if it would make for a better game for the less experienced players out there.
The stealth system feels largely the same with you being able to take the majority of enemies silently if you time everything correctly. There have definitely been some improvements in this regard as it’s quite possible to skip massive areas if you pull the stealth off correctly. Unfortunately the poorly implemented detection mechanism is still there meaning that if you trigger one guard you’ll trigger the lot of them, including the captains if any of them happen to be around. This can often lead to a panicked sprint to find the commanders before they can bring in wave after wave of additional enemies for you take out. Still the times when this happens are more than made up for with the sections that let you skip huge areas of combat if you’re patient and attentive which I feel is the key to making stealth sections rewarding.
The cut down talent system works well since there’s really not enough game time in The Old Blood to justify a talent system as deep as the one that was in The New Order. Some of the challenges either require you to die a few times over to complete (like the silent commander kill one) or you’ll need perfect execution to unlock them if you manage to do everything on a single life, which is quite doable in my opinion. However the majority of them are readily achievable with a little bit of planning and careful execution. The benefits you gain from them are mild at best and you could likely blast through the entire game without unlocking one and not feel like you’re struggling. I guess that’s somewhat the point, putting more of an emphasis on player skill, however I like upgrades to be impactful, turning a meek player into a god to be feared. That’s just this writer’s opinion, though.
The year of patches and fixes for The New Order have trickled their way down to The Old Blood meaning that issues like texture pop-in are pretty much gone although the performance hit in outdoor areas is still noticeable. One thing I did notice is that in some indoor scenes, particularly during cutscenes, the game would actually remove objects that were deemed “out of sight” of the player, even if say a corner or edge was still mostly visible. This leads to a rather jarring pop-in of objects (not textures) in some scenes as characters move about the scene. It can highlight areas of interest although I believe that aspect of it is wholly unintended. Overall it seems that the id Tech 5 engine is starting to mature nicely after 4 years of use by id and hopefully many of these improvements find their way into the upcoming id Tech 6 engine.
The Old Blood retains similar stylings to its predecessor with the inner monologue of Blazkowicz driving much of it with the rest hidden in notes scattered everywhere. You won’t be seeing many familiar faces in this game so it’s not like this game is seeking to flesh out the back story of anyone but the main protagonist. Still most of the characters are given enough screen time to flesh their characters out to a basic level although rarely to they expand more upon that. I think this primarily stems from the fact that pretty much every character in The Old Blood doesn’t make an appearance in the The New Order and, given the game’s length, there’s really not much time to flesh out anyone in earnest. Still it’s above average when it comes to the corridor shooter genre, even if that really isn’t saying much.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a worthy successor to The New Order, taking the essence of what made that game great and streamlining it into a shorter experience. Whilst many will be pining for a much longer and deeper experience, this writer included, it’s hard to deny that the experience (while it lasts) is of the same calibre as its predecessor. This does mean a few of the less desirable quirks remain but this is counterbalanced by the ones that were fixed. Suffice to say if you were hungering for more of the new style of Wolfenstein games then you won’t go wrong with The Old Blood, even if you may be left wanting for more when the final credit screen rolls around.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation 4 right now for $39.99 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with 5 hours of total play time and 35% of the achievements unlocked.
Nearly every gamer of my generation would have grown up with the classic FPS Wolfenstein 3D. I was just 7 years old when it first came out and my parents, not wanting to expose me to violent games that involved killing people, forbid me from playing it. Of course this didn’t deter me one bit and through an ingenious floppy sharing and copying system my brother and I managed to get our hands on a copy. However it was clear this game was beyond my skills at the time as I can’t remember ever getting past the first level and my guiltily acquired pleasure was soon ditched for more entertaining games. The Wolfenstein series has made many reappearances since then with varying levels of quality. The sentiment among my friends for this latest instalment wasn’t particularly high but, in all honesty, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great game in its own right.
You are agent Blazkowicz, Nazi killing extraordinaire who is taking part in a large allies raid on the axis forces. It’s been 3 years since the events of the previous game and the Nazis have developed highly advanced technology, turning the tide against the allied forces. Your mission is to strike directly at the heart of the Nazi war machine: your old nemesi: General Deathshead. Unfortunately your plane is shot down before you can start your mission, putting you deep in the trenches facing off against some of the technological horrors of the Nazi army.
The New Order is one of the few games to be based on the id Tech 5 engine with the last one being it’s debut game, Rage. It’s most certainly worthy of its next generation status as the visuals are top notch, even on an aging computer like mine. There are some notable performance issues, especially during the opening scenes, which required me to tweak several settings to get them working satisfactorily. That being said once I was past that initial scene and into the more corridor-esque parts the performance issues seemed to die down somewhat. It’d be interesting to contrast this against a similar machine with a NVIDIA card, considering the amount of optimization The New Order has for it.
In terms of actual game play The New Order is your typical corridor shooter that’s been augmented with a few RPG characteristics here and there to give you a sense of progression. The New Order avoids the current pitfall of infinitely regenerating health, instead allowing you to regen up to a certain point before requiring you to seek out health packs. You can still carry a ridiculous number of guns, although you won’t be able to carry them across chapters, and all of them will get augmented in one (or several) ways, opening up many new opportunities for taking out Nazis in the most glorious ways. There’s also a stealth system which, whilst functional, loses much of its sheen when it’s unceremoniously ripped away from you. Still the combination of all these parts makes for an interesting, if not entirely unique, experience.
The combat is fluid and highly polished, comparable to that of other AAA shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield. The aiming does feel a little on the generous side as you’ll be able to easily nail headshots from the hip at great distances. For the most part though the combat isn’t exactly difficult, indeed you’ll likely not die for much of the first half of the game, but the later stages of the game do require you to employ a little strategy in order to progress without dying repeatedly. Often it’s just remembering when/where the strongest enemies appear as they’re usually the ones who’ll cause your unexpected demise.
The stealth system is pretty basic, you can crouch down and then sneak around and take out enemies one by one and they’ll be none the wiser to your presence. Indeed the bodies of taken out enemies don’t seem to phase them one bit, allowing you to take out great swaths of enemies without much of a thought to the order in which you do it. On the flip side there’s very little leniency with getting spotted and most likely the second you’re in a guard’s line of sight you’ll be spotted and everyone will know exactly where you are (even if you move away from that spot out of sight). It’s much better than other games that have tacked on stealth mechanics however it could still do with a little more fleshing out.
I really quite liked the talent system as instead of it being based on XP or some other arbitrary value or event it’s tied to you completing certain objectives in the game. This means that should you favour one style of game play over another that particular way of playing will get strong over the course of the game. Of course this can backfire on you completely if you say, choose to complete things in a mostly stealthy manner, as most of the time you’ll have the opportunity for stealth completely removed from you. Still even with that limitation I was able to unlock the majority of the perks without trying too hard and those few that required something special could usually be done in the space of a single chapter.
Unfortunately the 3 years between the release of RAGE and The New Order haven’t seen the larger issues with the id Tech 5 engine sorted out. Texture pop-in is rife in almost every environment, something which is highly noticeable if you spin around at even a mild pace. Combine this with the frame rate issues at the beginning and it’s not a great experience, one that had me searching for solutions for quite some time. Updating to the latest beta drivers seems to be fixing that for most people but texture pop in will still remain. Hopefully a couple patches will be able to sort these issues out as whilst they don’t stop the game from being playable it does add frustration where it’s not needed.
The New Order’s story does shine through as one of the better aspects as whilst it’s not exactly Oscar winning material it does make you empathize with the characters. You will have to ignore some of the obnoxious plot holes in order to fully enjoy the story but it’s one of the first FPS games in a long time to do tragedy right. Of course you could still play The New Order, completely ignoring the plot, and still get a lot out of it however.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a well polished evolution of the Wolfenstein series, combining the classic FPS game style with modern elements that results in a very solid experience. The combat is fast paced and well polished, the stealth system actually usable and the story punches above its weight. However the id Tech 5 engine seems to still show signs of not being fully baked yet, mostly due to the fact that this is only the second title to be released with it. Nothing about those issues aren’t fixable however and hopefully they’re resolved in future patch releases. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a game that both long time fans and newcomers to the series can enjoy, a feat few long running series like this can lay claim to.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $79.95, $79.95, $99.95, $79.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on PC on the hard difficulty setting with 10 hours of total play time and 62% of the achievements unlocked.